For lovers of technology, the coolest stuff in human history

For lovers of technology, the coolest stuff in human history has arrived in the last century or so, a mere speck at the very end of civilization’s timeline. This last century is when hunter-gatherer and agrarian eras gave way to the mercantile, industrial, and current fifth era, characterized by digital computing and biotech. #DYK #GorillaGlass #history

When Thomas Edison had the idea for the light bulb

When Thomas Edison had the idea for the light bulb, he came to @Corning for the glass envelope that would make the product commercially available. From 1879 to the launch of Gorilla Glass in 2007, Corning has focused on innovations that make the world and your life, better. #AlwaysInnovating #GorillaGlass #SciFri #ScienceFriday 

Testing Underline and Bold Tags!

Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed1 
A poor mountaineer2, barely kept his family fed
And then one day he was shootin at some food
And up through the ground come a bubblin crude. 

Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea3. 

Well the first thing you know ol Jed’s a millionaire
The kinfolk said “Jed move away from there” 
Said “Californy is the place you ought to be”
So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly 

Hills, that is. Swimmin pools, movie stars. 

1 Jed is a fictional character from the Beverly Hillbillys
2 Jed’s status as a real mountaineer is in doubt..needs citation
3 There is no historical fact of Texans actually drinking crude oil…needs citation

Hot Lava (keeps us warm at night)!

If you’ve been keeping warm with natural gas, or just firing up the stove at night to make dinner, you might want to take a moment to be thankful for – volcanoes.  Because without “Hot Lava” (and thank you, B-52s), there might be a lot less natural gas (at least in the United States).

This news comes from scientists at Rice University (with a little help from Shell), and tells a story that goes back to the time of the dinosaurs.  Or more precisely, the end of the time of the dinosaurs – the Cretaceous Period, if you remember your paleontology.

We give you a link to the deep science version of this story below, but here’s the ten second synopsis:

During the Cretaceous, there was a time of the volcanoes – hundreds of volcanoes erupting over millions of years, along what would become the West Coast of the United States.  From those volcanoes came massive amounts of ash (and lava too, of course), carried by the wind and dumped over what would become the western Midwest, from Texas to Montana.

But in those days, instead of Texas and Montana, there was ocean – since much of our continent was underwater.  And while volcanic ash is not something most of us would like to find on our plates, it’s a tasty dish (or some of the stuff in that ash is) for some microorganisms, like the phytoplankton that live in the ocean.

So the phytoplankton go on an eating binge (for millions of years), and since they are the starting point in the ocean food chain – everybody and everything underwater also eats well (for millions of years).  And when, in the way of the world, those plants and animals die, fall to the bottom, are covered in sediment, and so forth, over and over and over again – one result of all that carbon (our planet being home to carbon-based life) pressed under the surface is – vast deposits of natural gas.

Which eventually means that when the United States-to-be emerges from under the ocean and dries out – and then (millions of years later), we humans show up – an abundant supply of natural gas is waiting for us, in shale fields from Texas to Montana.  (And although this study didn’t look further east, it may be the same for that Marcellus shale gas field that runs through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio.)

It IS still a mystery as to what exactly did in the dinosaurs.  It may have been volcanoes that finished off T-rex and company.  But now it’s no mystery who many of us have to thank for a warm house in the winter or a roast chicken in the oven – volcanoes!

(And if you want to go deeper into the science, the Rice team published their report on Nature.com.)

Drones and 3D printing AND fixing potholes?

Picture this:  a drone with cameras, featuring pothole-recognition software – spots a bit of damage on the highway.  A repair drone is sent out, equipped with a 3D asphalt printer to lay down some fresh pavement and presto, it’s smooth sailing (well, driving) once again.

How cool is that?  Very cool.  And while it isn’t road ready yet, it’s coming.

Still in the development stage, our compatriots across the pond at the University of Leeds are the ones working on this solution to a rough ride (proof that potholes respect no national boundaries, we suppose).  But they have built a test version, and its repair work is accurate to within one MILLIMETER (that’s about the thickness of a credit card) – which sounds pretty precise for street work.

So, city potholes?

Check.

Country potholes?

Check.

Car-eating potholes?

Well, maybe not.  Not yet, anyhow.

Personally though, we think a drone would look pretty good in one of those fluorescent safety vests.  The one challenge left?  A safety drone to drop (and pick up) those orange cones, to mark off the pothole while it’s being filled.

There’s more too.  The Pothole Patrol drones are part of a larger project on “self-repairing cities” – which might include robots that would “live” inside utility pipes, inspecting, reporting and even repairing leaks – drones that could drop down on a street light and replace a burned-out bulb – and probably other things we haven’t even thought of yet.  So if you’ve got an idea, now is the time to work on that drone to swoop down and pick up dog poop from the sidewalk, or….

“At a gas station, some of Reno’s best Mexican food”

So you’re on the way out of town in Reno, Nevada.  Wherever you’re going next, it’s probably a drive – so you want to fill up before you head out.

Now it could be that you’re flush, and you want to treat yourself before you hit the road.  Or it could be that you’re busted, and you need almost every penny from the change dish, from down between the seats, from your coat pocket – to cover gas money.

Either way, you can get some of the best Mexican food in town AND a full tank of gas, all in one affordable stop.  Just set your GPS for Burrito Express and Valero, on East Fourth Street.

This is a Mexican place, inside a convenience store, inside a Valero station – so, this is road trip food, to go.  But as the Reno Gazette-Journal ranks it, you’ll be going happy, if you’re leaving from Burrito Express:

“The asada is roasty from the grill, the mellower buche bedazzled with juicy pops of fat.”  (Ok, truthfully, if their reporter had stopped here, we’d be headed to the car already.  But there’s more.)

“The quesadilla?  It’s immense…Sweet, savory, caramelized pastor (with traditional pineapple chunks) spills from the quesadilla triangles;  ropes of cheese stretch between…”

“The torta, slicked by the grill, also can barely contain itself.  In fact, to get a handle on this bad boy, I have to eat some of the tender pork loin and grilled onion rounds before I take a bite.”

(Oh, and we hear the gasoline is top tier too.)

That, spells r-o-a-d t-r-i-p to us.

You can read the full review in the Reno Gazette Journal.

You can try the food for yourself, at the Valero station, 2500 E. Fourth Street, Reno.

And if you’ve got a favorite gas station/restaurant combo of your own (in Reno, or anywhere else), let us know.  One day, you might be reading about YOUR place on this page.

“Which New Car Tech Features Are Actually Good?”

That’s the question Road and Track asked in a recent story.  Where’s the line between the dashboard* display that shows how the stock market is trending instead of your speed (ok, that we made up. Well, we think.) versus something cool AND useful (and safe)?

Here’s a sampling of what made their list.  See how it compares with yours:

Number One for Road & Track is the back-up camera.  And even if that one isn’t high on your list, we’re all going to be using them eventually – because every passenger car sold in the U.S. now, is required to have one.  (And yes, that “thanks” you hear, is from your rear bumper.)

Remember cruise control?  Switch that on for a long highway drive, and you can give your right leg a break (plus the steady speed is excellent for fuel efficiency).  The addition of radar puts this on the R&T list.  Now cruise control can adjust to the car in front of you, and keep you at a set distance behind.  You’re still steering though, so all eyes on the road.

Next up, let’s take a couple of under-the-hood items:

Limited-slip differential.  Yes, we had to look that up also.  Say you hit a patch of ice, and one front wheel starts slipping.   The differential sends more power to the other front wheel that still has a grip. It’s been around since the 1930s, but what lands it on this list is the addition of electronics – which make that power shift faster and more precise.

If you’ve ever felt the road a little too much, this one is for you:  magnetic adaptive suspension. These shock absorbers use a liquid polymer (yes, we like that) – and little zaps of electricity to make that polymer thicker or thinner, to react and cushion any bump in the road – in a few milliseconds.  So by the time you know you’ve hit that pothole, your suspension has got your back.  Literally.

Finally, R&T did call out a couple of features that aren’t cool at all – in fact, they’re warm:  the heated steering wheel and the heated seat.  Readers in our northern states, you don’t need us to tell you why that matters.  (Though if you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line, that heated seat is also ventilated – cool, when your car’s been sitting parked in the summer sun.)

Not all of these are on every car, of course – but you can see all thirteen of Road & Track’s top tech for cars, and what cars have them, plus weigh in with your own favorites:  Which New Car Tech Features Are Actually Good?

*And just in case you’re wondering, like we did, WHY is it called a “dashboard”, here’s the answer:  Back in the days before the “horseless carriage” (aka, the car), the dashboard was a piece of wood or leather, put in front of you and behind the horse(s), to keep mud being “dashed” up onto your lap.  Then, in the earliest cars, it would have protected you from whatever the front wheels kicked up (those cars were more open).  Later, it separated you from the heat of the engine – and finally, it just turned out to be a good place to put car instrumentation (once that was invented) – the speedometer, gas gauge, and such.  But while its purpose changed over the years, the name never did.

“Star Truck”?

Imagine for a moment that James T. Kirk did not go to Starfleet Academy, and went instead – to truck driving school.

Well, his ride has arrived…

In fact, Shell, which is helping develop this new truck, calls the project the “Starship Initiative.”

The goal however, is not to explore new worlds, but to use energy more efficiently in the world we’ve got. This new truck incorporates new design ideas, but it will run on diesel and be a truck that could haul cargo on the roads of today, in the lifetime of those of us around today.

Shell’s collaborator on this project is Bob Sliwa and his AirFlow Truck Company – and you’ll find their fuel-saving innovations inside and outside this truck. The aerodynamic front is unmistakable. But in addition, the truck sides and back sweep down almost to the ground, which cuts wind resistance. The cab – built from carbon fiber, strong but much lighter than today’s truck cabs. An energy-efficient six-cylinder diesel engine. A futuristic-looking convex windshield. Low-rolling resistance tires that cut friction with the road. Oils and lubricants from the Shell labs.

This “laboratory on wheels” made a coast-to-coast run recently, to road test the truck design. The results? Compared to the current industry average for big rigs, the amount of cargo the “Starship” could move per gallon of diesel was almost 250 percent higher. That’s a massive increase in fuel efficiency.

So keep an eye out on the highway for this Starship (not that you’d miss it). And get ready for, “These are the voyages of – my 18-wheeler, good buddy!”

Making Flip-Flops, and Making a Difference

What can you make out of polyurethane?

Bowling balls and soccer balls, surf boards and roller coasters, insulation and bandages and flip-flops.  The list of “things” you can make from polyurethane is quite long.

At a New Rochelle (just outside of New York City) company named Tidal, they make flip-flops from polyurethane – but they make something else too – they make a difference in the lives of the Army and Marine Corps vets who work there. More than 80 percent of Tidal’s factory workers are veterans.

Oh, Tidal has the full-on 21st century at work (we’ll show you what the factory floor looks like in a moment):  like pouring liquid polyurethane into molds (instead of cutting the flip-flops out) – digital UV printers for the art on your footwear – and yeah, you can find them on Instagram.

But there are some serious old-school values at work there too:  all the materials come from U.S. suppliers – if you don’t like the flip-flops, they take ‘em back, and you get your money back, period – and, their commitment to hiring ex-servicemen and women.

So let’s turn over the mic to Pat and Siul, Adam and Joe – veterans and Tidal employees, who will show you what they do – the molding, the printing, the strapping, the inspecting – and they’ll tell you a bit about who they are too.  We’ll see you back here in 90 seconds.

Our part in this story is a modest one.  But to make polyurethane, you start with petrochemical building blocks, such as propylene and benzene – so what we make, helps make possible what Tidal makes – the flip-flops, and the difference.

And with summer in the air already, and on the calendar soon, if you’re thinking about something new for your feet this season, you might take a look – and you can do that here:  Tidal New York.

Road Trip! And (Weird) side Attractions

Would you take a break on your road trip for an ice cream shop shaped like a giant owl, called “Hoot Hoot I Scream”?

Yes, of course you would!  Who wouldn’t?  That’s part of the point of a road trip – seeing something, eating something, doing something you only find – out on the road.

And yes, you could have stopped at “Hoot Hoot I Scream.”  It WAS a real place.  And also yes, we’ll show you what it looked like, in a moment.

But first, a few more stops along the road – in this case, the road through California, where a lot of the state was built around the car – so there were plenty of businesses that built themselves to catch your eye from the car.

Like the Big Donut Drive-in (You didn’t drive through the donut though – that was on the roof.  And it was a BIG donut.  32 feet worth.).

Or Tail o’ the Pup (though we admit, this one looks as much like a SpaceX turned on its side, as it does a hot dog in a bun).

And who would not be tempted by the giant coffee pot on the roof of – the “Wilshire Coffee Pot”, naturally (featuring Ben-Hur drip coffee – the perfect drink for a trip in heavy traffic)?  Or the “Bull Stops Here Barbecue”, featuring a GIANT cow?  Or, if only because “could something REALLY be that weird” (and yes, it could), the “Toed Inn” – a drive-in with a walk-up counter that was built into a giant, yes, a toad.

You can see ‘em all here, thanks to the folks at  Atlas Obscura.  And if that whets your appetite, so to speak, for more road trip treats – the source for all these is the book, California Crazy.

And while these roadside attractions are all in California, most states with a highway and road trippers had their own versions, at least at one time (but if you’ve seen the world’s largest teapot, off Highway 30 in West Virginia, you knew that already).

Some say it all began, by the way, with Lucy, a six-story wooden elephant just off the beach in Margate, New Jersey (that’s the southern part of the Jersey Shore, for you fans of the TV show – and on the same island as Atlantic City).  And if this summer finds you in South Jersey – drop by for Lucy’s 137th birthday party.

And if you’ve got a favorite roadside attraction, wherever the road has taken you – let us know, we’d like to hear about it.

The First Annual Cars and Presidents Quiz

Do you know your cars AND your American history?  Then try your hand at our Cars and Presidents quiz.

Ladies and gentlemen – start your brains (not your search engines), and good luck!

Your questions are:

And, the envelopes please:

A. Which President shared his ride with Al Capone (not at the same time, of course)?

Answer: President Roosevelt (Franklin). 

It was an armored Cadillac that had been Al Capone’s car.  This was right after Pearl Harbor, and it was a temporary measure while the official White House car was being fortified.

B. Who was the first President to ride in a car?

Answer: President McKinley. 

That, from the admittedly short list of memorable facts about President McKinley.

C. Who was the first President to ride in a car, as President (hint:  B & C are not the same president)?

Answer: President Roosevelt (Theodore). 

Theodore Roosevelt recorded a number of firsts, though to be fair, he doesn’t seem to have too fond of cars.  Of course, they’ve improved since his day.

D. Who was the first President to go to an auto show?

Answer: President Taft. 

William Howard Taft, on the other hand, DID like cars.  In fact, he officially opened “the 1913 automobile show at the Convention Hall, Washington, D.C. … by pressing a button from the White House, igniting 150,000 lights at the hall.”  Then he went over to have a look in person.

E.  When did the White House stables give way to the White House garage?

Answer: 1909

F. Which President rode in a Lincoln?

Answer: President Truman.

Though he was only the first.  His pair of Lincoln Cosmopolitans went on to serve the next three presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson).

G. Which President owned an Amphicar (it was just what it sounds like)?

Answer: President Johnson (Lyndon). 

You could have had one of these too, as the Amphicar was not an official presidential vehicle (though there were only about 3800 ever made).  Johnson kept it on his Texas ranch, and liked to scare visitors by pretending to lose control and driving into a lake (where it would float).

H. Which President said, “I am a motorist myself and know what it means to travel over rough roads.”?  (And he meant real roads, not metaphorical ones.)

Answer: President Taft. (again)

I. Who was the first President to give up the traditional horse and carriage, and ride in a car to his inauguration?

Answer: President Harding. 

Looking sharp in a Packard Twin-Six.  Looking less sharp later in his administration when the Teapot Dome scandal broke.

J. And who once called out his 1950 ‘Olds in a speech?

Answer: President Nixon. 

Ok, this was a trick question.  Nixon was only Vice-President when he mentioned his Oldsmobile, as part of a description of his modest life (the “Checkers” speech).

Thanks for playing!

Leaving…on a jet plane

Planning to fly somewhere this summer?

That wouldn’t be unusual, since almost half of us got on a plane at some point last year.  (Here’s what that would look like, by the way, if you could see the whole country from high above.  Not all small planes are included):

That animation was produced by the folks at NASA, by the way.

And you know what makes all that flying possible?  The same thing that lets you drive to the supermarket for the week’s groceries.  Fuel – made from petroleum.  The same barrel of oil that’s used to produce gasoline, also produces jet fuel.

Lucky for us, since this country of ours is a big place to travel.  East to West, New York to San Francisco for instance?  About 2,900 miles. And North-South?  Almost 2,400 miles from Maine to Miami.

And while sometimes it IS all about the journey – a lot of the time, you just want to get “there” – you just want to see your mom, or your parents just want to see your kids – your daughter just wants to get to her dorm and unpack, or everybody just wants to unroll their towels on the beach.  Maybe you can’t wait to row out on that lake, or for the curtain to rise on an opera you’ve never seen before.

There are a lot of reasons we travel.  But when you want the miles in between here and there to go by as quickly as possible, say 500 miles an hour – for that, you want a plane.  And a plane, wants fuel.

For example, a Boeing 787, the new Dreamliner, takes more than 33,000 gallons of jet fuel to fill up.  Even for the newest, fuel-saving planes (and the Dreamliner is one of those),  it’s still a big job to get a few hundred people (and their luggage) 35,000 feet up in the air and across the country.

(So maybe it’s just as well that supermarkets don’t have points programs for jet fuel.  Somebody would have to eat a LOT of kale to fill one of those planes up.)

The key ingredient in that jet fuel though, is something that’s been around a long time:  kerosene.  Jet fuel is a more purified version, and there are some other things in it, like anti-freeze (it’s COLD up there at 35,000 feet).  But in principle, it’s the same kerosene that our parents’ parents’ parents’ parents might have used in a lamp, for light.

Wondering which came first, jets or jet fuel?  Jet fuel wins that race, or at least kerosene does.  In the modern era, kerosene was being distilled from petroleum by the time of the Civil War.  The first jet doesn’t take off till the 1930s.

So if you are flying on a plane somewhere this summer, enjoy your trip.  And remember, every flight starts with the jet fuel made from a barrel of oil, and the security line at the airport.

Honky Tonk Polymers: Making Music with Plastics, Part 2

Recently we told you the story of the Res-o-Glas guitar – that plastic guitar from the ‘60s with the shimmery sound, played by a long list of rock gods, from Bob Dylan to Jack White.

Plastic, Fantastic…Guitars: Making Music with Plastics, Part 1

But that’s just Chapter 1 of the plastics and music story.  You could put together an entire band, or orchestra, using instruments built with polymers (“polymer” you’ll recall, is the fancy name for plastic).

Take jazz, for instance, and the saxophone.  Among his instruments, the great Charlie Parker played an acrylic saxophone made by Grafton, and on occasion, so did Rudy Vallee (when he wasn’t singing).  And it wasn’t a Grafton, but David Bowie’s first musical instrument (he was 10 or 11 at the time) was – a plastic saxophone.

There’s a plastic trombone too – the pBone.  (And yes, there’s a pTrumpet too.)  If you’re curious about the chemistry of that music, the pBone is made from ABS plastic, made possible by petrochemicals (in this case, you take a little acrylonitrile, a little styrene, a little butadiene…and a few chemical reactions later, you’ve got a trombone).

So that brass section – “76 polymer pBones led the big parade”?  Well, maybe it works better for the music than the lyrics…

Oh, and if you know your marching band, you know the Sousaphone (named for JP, of course).  Fiberglass has been the material of choice for many of the Sousaphones serenading high school football games from coast to coast, since the 1960s.

Now, if you want some rhythm to back up those horns?  Mylar© might be more familiar as the stuff shiny balloons are made of – but for years now, it’s also been used on the snares, traps and the rest of the drum kit.  Other polymers, like Kevlar©, make an appearance on the skins, (though Kevlar is probably more familiar to most of us as body armor.  And more on THAT side of Kevlar in a future story).

Crossing over to the woodwinds – yeah, a lot of today’s clarinets, piccolos and oboes (recorders too, if you like that elementary school sound) might fairly be called polymerwinds (alright, that sounds terrible).  And if you have a budding flute player in the house – he or she might well be starting out on a jFlute (thanks, ABS).

Should you be one of our readers with a few years behind you, the name Arthur Godfrey might ring a bell.  Or more properly, might pluck a string – since he was famous for his ukulele (And famous he was.  At his peak in the early ‘50s, he had a Monday night TV show, a Tuesday night TV show and a radio talk show).  When he endorsed the Islander ukulele, made from Styron© (a Dow Chemical polystyrene), 9 million of them sold over the next 20 years.

And because these ukes were plastic, you could play ‘em in the shower, or drop them in the sink, and they’d be just fine.

Now if you like your stringed instruments a bit more in the Mozartian vein, you’ll find polymers there too.  The instrument makers Luis and Clark, for instance, make a full line of carbon fiber classical strings – from violins and violas, up to a string bass.  (And Yo-Yo Ma really likes their cello, so they must be onto something).

Plastic, Fantastic…Guitars: Making Music with Plastics, Part 1

What’s red and white and far-out all over?

A Res-O-Glas guitar, of course.

Ask Jack White or the Cure’s Robert Smith – John Fogerty or Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys –  Bob Dylan, even Eugene Strobe (we’ll get to him in a minute).  They’ve all taken the stage with Res-O-Glas at one time or another.

“Every guitar has a personality…sometimes they feedback more – sometimes they have this kind of, almost kind of toy-sound quality to them…they really have a unique sound…”

And that’s what Eugene Strobe is talking about, describing the sound he gets from HIS Res-O-Glas today.  You can HEAR what he’s talking about, in this intro to AM/FM (his band is Cosmic Light Shapes).

That sound, comes from the “Glas” in Res-O-Glas.  These guitars were made out of fiberglass, which is plastic reinforced with glass fiber.  That made them lightweight, and gave them that distinctive sound.

The original Res-O-Glas guitars go back to the early Sixties, when guitars were expensive.  Res-O-Glas wasn’t, then.  (They are, now – because they aren’t made anymore.)  And back in their day, the place you could buy these guitars, made by Valco (a long-gone American guitar maker) was – Montgomery Ward (yes, we’ll pause for a moment, while younger readers Google that name.

Back now?  We continue then.).

As groovy as Res-O-Glas guitars were, and are – it isn’t the guitar for everyone.  Oh, it’s true, for instance, that Jimi Hendrix started with one.  Then he gave it up (maybe when he discovered that fiberglass is inflammable).

Or, if you’re the DIY-type, Guitar Kits USA has what you need to build your own, and you can put the money you save toward a bass or drum kit.  Just sayin.

In Making Music with Plastics, Part 2 – if you thought plastic guitars were outta sight, we’ve got a piano for you.  A whole symphony, in fact.

Looking To Make A Little Money? Look Here.

“Most companies that pay six figures to the majority of their workers aren’t big banks or money managers, but ___________________.”

Yes, we ARE going to fill in the blank from that Wall Street Journal story.  But before we do, try and guess what comes next.  There are three industries after that “but”, and one of them might surprise you.

Ok, time’s up.  And now, here’s all of that sentence:

“Most companies that pay six figures to the majority of their workers aren’t big banks or money managers, but biotech firms that rely on medical researchers, and energy and technology companies with a large number of engineers and technical staff.”

Which is to say, as the Journal said, “More than 100 companies in the S&P 500 routinely awarded employees $100,000 or more in 2017 … Nearly half of those were in the energy industry…”

We’ve written about this before (http://imaginethat.org/stories/highest-paying-college-major-petroleum-engineering-jobs/)

Petroleum engineers, of course you’d expect to find them in the petrochemical industry – but there are also chemical and electrical and mechanical engineers, structural and facilities and power solutions engineers.  Engineers of all types (ok, maybe not train engineers).  And it isn’t just engineers.  Artificial intelligence, programming, 3D-printing, drones – the petrochemical industry is putting all those tools to work as well – so if tech is your field, there IS a place for you.

These are pretty cool jobs (in case you’re young enough to be thinking about your own career, or mid-career enough to be thinking about a change).  You might be working with one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.  You might be using sound waves to map the world underground.

You might be doing your work out at sea – in the mountains – the desert – a downtown high-rise – or all of the above (just not at the same time).

And, as this week’s news tells us, you’re rewarded for doing what you what love anyhow (which makes it even better).

Got a company you’d like to know more about (maybe the one where you work now)?  You can look up the median pay here, “How Does Your Pay Stack Up?

Mo(w) better

The calendar turning to June means a lot of things:  the end of the school year, the start of summer vacations, and for a lot of us – mowing the lawn (and mowing the lawn again, and again).

We don’t have any new ideas about how to keep the kids busy, and you’ve probably already got your list of places to visit – but in case you haven’t been keeping up on the latest in lawn mowers – about that, we DO have some news for you.  And it’s good news too.

Want a lawn mower that doesn’t take up half the garage?  That would be a lawn mower that folds (the handle folds down, that is) so you can store it upright (it takes about the space of a wheeled suitcase)…with no gas or oil leaking.  (Toro makes that one.)

Tired of changing the oil in your mower (you ARE changing the oil, aren’t you?)?  How about a lawn mower engine that NEVER needs an oil change?  (Just a top-off now and then.)  Briggs and Stratton, and Kohler, both make lawn mower engines which fit that bill.

If the words “primer bulb” mean anything to you, you might be happy to know there are lawnmowers now that don’t need that anymore.  No priming, and no choke required.  Just pull, and mow.

Just like your car, your mower does best with fresh gas – but since you probably drive the car more frequently than you mow the lawn, it’s easy to run afoul there.  So here’s something new – a fuel stabilizer insert in the gas cap.  It drips a slow but steady concentrate into the mower’s tank (a fuel stabilizer helps keep your fuel fresh, and protects your engine), and when it’s empty, you just pop in a new insert.  The “Snapper” is a lawn mower with that feature.

And, this one doesn’t have anything to do with oil or gas, but – Briggs & Stratton says lawn mower engines with its Quiet Power Technology© are up to 50 percent quieter.  (But you might want to give it a listen in the store first, before you take it to the lawn some Sunday morning.)

Making gas engines work more efficiently, more effectively, even more quietly – that’s an ongoing project, from innovations in cars and trucks and planes, all the way down to the smallest engines and fuel tanks, like the ones in our lawn mowers.

“Holy hidden motorcycle!” (The return of the Batcycle?)

Yes, the Batcycle might be in your future ride.  As in, inside your future ride.

Cue the music: https://youtu.be/VSaDPc1Cs5U

Automotive News caught our eye recently with the story (“Is a motorcycle car hybrid in Ford’s future plans?”):

“Ford has filed for a patent that features a motorcycle integrated into what looks like a Focus or Escort wagon. … Ford’s bike emerges from the front of the car, a la the Batmobile, to ride to whatever location comes next.”

But even if you are not a caped crusader, there are some practical benefits to the idea.

Those of us who are city-dwellers, for instance, know how hard it can be to find parking sometimes. There’s a space, at Point A – but where you want to go, is over there at Point B. No problem. Park the car at Point A – break out the motorcycle, and ride over to Point B (you can always find a place to park a bike).

And practicality aside, there’s no doubt that parking your car, “ejecting” your motorcycle and riding off (even if it’s just up the driveway) – that’s a cool way to make an entrance anywhere.

Now, there is a looooooong distance between patent and product, so who knows when, or even if, you’ll find this in your next Ford. We can hope though. (Ford calls the idea a “multimodal transportation apparatus”, by the way, so when the time comes, you’ll know what to ask for.) And it is a reminder that for all those years the car has been with us – there is still plenty of new on four wheels.

We should say though, that if your driving companion is Robin, he may be out of luck. There’s no sidecar with this bike. Well, not yet anyhow.

Boy Scouts create magical STEM bus

No, this isn’t Pete Townshend’s “Magic Bus” (but if that put you in the mood for a little vintage Who, we’ve got you covered:  Magic Bus).

This bus has REAL magic going on though – it’s a STEM Scouts Mobile Lab.  (“STEM” being Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  “Scouts” being the Boy Scouts.)

(Photo from STEM Scouts)

Boys AND girls, from elementary school to high school seniors, can find magic to create on this bus, which is a project of the Samoset Council Scouts, covering a chunk of north central Wisconsin (around Wausau, if you know the state).  And this bus has a name:  Vortex.

On the bus?  Kids can work on 3-D printing or genetics – build and program a robot or build a bridge (no programming for those) – electric circuitry or “the world of goo” – learn about launch angles, with a catapult – make a paper helicopter – design (and build) a hydraulic arm that can pick up and move things – there’s even Play-Doh (as in, the chemistry of).

The STEM Scouts program is a mix of activities – hands-on science, field trips, work with STEM professionals, and in the Samoset program, a lab that comes to the kids.  Students meet weekly, and take on subjects in modules of 4 to 6 weeks.  Over the course of each module, the students rotate through the different roles on their team:  Principal Investigator, Co-PI, Project Manager and Technician—so each student, boy and girl, gets the full range of experience.  And if you’re wondering, yes, STEM Scouts DO have merit badges – they’re just electronic badges.

By the way, if you think YOUR kids might like the lab-coat-and-goggles-look, Wisconsin is just one of 23 states where STEM Scouts operates.  You can check to see if your state/city is on their list here:  https://stemscouts.org/find-a-lab/

(Photo from STEM Scouts)

What got this STEM bus going, was a contribution from the Paul and Ruth Schultz Foundation, in Wausau.

What gets this lab on wheels to the next generation of scientists and engineers, wherever they may be today—that’s the contribution fuels make.